The 2014 Grain Gathering (formerly known as the Kneading Conference West) took place last week on the gorgeous grounds of Washington State University Agriculture Research Center in Mount Vernon, Washington. It was the fourth of these events and as we now live in California (I had sent in my registration long before I knew our move would be a done deal by the time mid-August came around), I truly thought, before flying up, that this one would probably be the last one for me.
After all, I do get it: eat locally and seasonally, be gentle with the landscape by favoring organic or at least environmentally friendly agricultural methods and always remember that farmers need to make a living too (after all, if there were no more farmers, there’d be nobody between us and Big Food, a thought too scary to contemplate). So I had more or less convinced myself that this year’s event would be mostly a rehash and that having attended the first four ones, I was done!
Well, I am happy to say that I was wrong and that I flew home with dreams of the fifth Gathering dancing in my head! The name of the event was changed from Kneading Conference to Grain Gathering because, as Steve Jones (wheat breeder and Director of the Center as well as of the Bread Lab) puts it: “Nobody kneads anymore.” Plus bakers are not the only ones interested in grain: farmers, millers, breeders, brewers, etc. flock to Mount Vernon as well. In fact, more than anything, the “gathering” dimension is what will keep me coming. I love the energy and dynamics of encounters with participants from all over (twenty American States, three Canadian Provinces, the United Kingdom and South Africa.) I love it that bread isn’t the only focus, that classes, lectures and workshops on milling, malting, brewing, breeding, building earth ovens, transforming a stationary bike into a grain mill, etc… are all mobbed as well.
For an idea of the scope of the Gathering, you may want to take a look at the schedule. In an ideal world (where Time wouldn’t exist or if it did, wouldn’t be linear), I would have attended all classes, lectures, tours and workshops concurrently but as it is, I had to choose. So I forewent production baking (even though the workshop was run by two bakers I greatly admire, Mel Darbyshire from Grand Central Bakery in Seattle and Scott Mangold from Breadfarm in nearby Bow-Edison), the roundtable on the farmers’ perspective, the one on milling and nutrition, the tour of the orchards and gardens, the visit to the wheat, barley and buckwheat fields, the talk on the science of bread, and many more that I won’t even mention because I feel bad for missing them all over again, but if you check out the program, you’ll have a good idea of what I am talking about.
In the end I opted for workshops that spoke louder than others either to my imagination or to my practical side or more often than not, to both. I attended all three of Naomi Duguid and Dawn Woodward‘s instructive and stimulating demos on the use of whole grain in everyday baking and cooking. I watched Richard Miscovich score proofed loaves before loading them in a wood-fired oven (Richard is an extraordinary baker and instructor and seeing him work is both a teaching moment and an experience you are not likely to forget.) I only caught the tail-end of Jeffrey Hamelman‘s pretzel workshop but still, I arrived at the wood-fired oven in time to see him score the pretzels (or not as he said it was a matter of personal preference) and hear most of his account of the tough love teaching methods of his German baking instructor.
I listened to a very interesting presentation by two high school students who won first place in the food science category at the 2013 Washington State Science and Engineering Fair for their project on fermentation and gluten.
I attended a lecture on natural leavening which went largely over my head but gave me the great pleasure of finally meeting microbiologist Debra Wink and hooking up again with Andrew Ross, professor of crop and soil science and food science at Oregon State University. I spent time with beloved friends, connected with other bloggers, met bakers, writers and Facebook friends I had never seen in person before, I took part in the Bread Lab‘s tasting of four different wheat varieties, all grown in the Skagit Valley, and I ate my way through three days of the most seductive event food imaginable.
In between, I took pictures (or, shall I say, “gathered” images) with joyful abandon (making up for last year when my left arm was in a cast.) I will post some (okay, a lot) of them in the coming days. If there are any recipes you are specifically interested in on the basis of the photos, please let me know and I’ll ask for permission to post them. As far as I know, no pizza recipe is available but from the look of the ones I saw, the only ingredient that appears absolutely necessary is a boundless imagination!